It's (Not Just) the Economy, Stupid

So it's been over a week, since Rep. Todd Akin made his incredibly stupid remarks about "legitimate rape" that appalled Democrats as a rule and even sent Republicans scrambling to denounce him and urge him to step out of his bid for the U.S. Senate.

And it's been twenty years since James Carville and the rest of Bill Clinton's election team used the phrase, "The economy, stupid," to mobilize voters and keep their candidate on message.

Since that time, it's become a staple of political wisdom, almost silly in its obviousness, that when the economy is in the shitter, it's a dumb idea to dwell on what we call "social issues" - things like women's health, immigration reform, gay marriage, reproductive rights, voter suppression, stuff like that.  When politicians talk about jobs and money, they're on point, but when they talk about social issues, they're clearly distracted - and it's boneheads like Todd Akin that are doing the distracting.

And it's almost taken for granted that voters who care deeply about these distractions, these "social issues," are flimsy thinkers, easily distracted, the kind of people who would buy a car because it's a pretty color with no knowledge of important things like, say, fuel efficiency, or torque.

And yet, it seems that everyone is just this distractable, as Todd Akin and his belief that magical vaginas can tell the difference between self-actualized, feminist-friendly sperm and bad, evil, rapey sperm, and will secrete spermicidal fluids when under stress shows.  That little bit of ridiculous twaddle has been distracting the entire nation for over a week now, so clearly we're all susceptible.

I personally have no problem with this.  My problem, and it's a minor one, has to do with this notion that jobs and the economy are the only issues worth discussing.  And they're important, don't get me wrong.  I'm lucky enough to have kept a job throughout the recession we've been experiencing for the past four years, but I do know how lucky I am.  Friends of mine - talented, imminently employable friends (and members of my family) - have not been so lucky, and I've seen first-hand how painful a bad economy can be.  Jobs and the economy should absolutely be on the table.

But it's a big table, and governing our country is a big job.  It seems to me that there ought to be room in the national discourse for lots of legislative issues that affect our lives.  And therein lies the problem.

Because, you see, the country is run - by and large - by straight white men.  If you have any position of power in our government or our society, you're probably at least two-out-of-three (straight, white, or male) - or you're Oprah.  And if you're a straight white man, then a lot of "social issues" - things like women's health, immigration reform, gay marriage, reproductive rights, voter suppression, stuff like that - can easily be seen as someone else's problem.  It's not easy for a lot of straight folks to truly feel the pain of gay couples who can't get married, difficult for a lot of men to empathize with women who are being threatened with less than full control over their own bodies, and hard for white people who are largely blind to their own whiteness to get too awfully excited about voter-ID laws that don't make it any harder for them to vote, or immigration "reforms" that don't require them to carry proof of citizenship at all times.

Not that all straight white men are bad.  There are a few who are downright awesome.  But most straight people, white people, and male people simply don't know what they don't know about what it is to be not straight, not white, or not male in America in 2012.  It sometimes seems that the only straight white men in this country who are truly invested in the silly superficial "social issues" are the assholes who believe that equity for non-straight, non-white, non-male people will somehow result in some sort of hostile takeover where only one kind of person has dignity, social standing, and the freedom to make their own choices - without realizing that this is exactly the world we live in and that one kind of person is them.

So here's the takeaway: social issues are not going anywhere.  They will continue to distract us for a long, long time.  Because for women, issues of women's health are life-or-death issues.  For gay people, the ability to get married means that you can visit your partner's deathbed, inherit his/her legacy without being taxed to death, or not be deported.  For people of color, Arizona's SB-1070 or Pennsylvania's new requirements for voter identification make you less valid, less human, less American in the eyes of the law.  This is really important stuff for a lot of people, even a few of the downright awesome straight white guys.

I don't feel stupid when I talk about social issues.  I don't feel like I'm being distracted from the really important stuff.  For me, it's all really important stuff.  And maybe when our politicians, our legislators, our media, and our citizenry starts treating it all like really important stuff, we can actually take a step forward as a nation.

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